Friday, 13 November 2015

Review of Switch (2012 film)

Recycling of nuclear waste in France now means that waste materials are relatively small - above is an
example of one such waste storage facility in France.

Last night I attended a screening of Switch, directed by Harry Lynch and featuring US Geologist Scott Tinker. It gave a quite unexpected, but welcome, balanced view on the future for energy.

I was a bit disappointed when a speaker told us before the screening that we were reliant on Putin for our gas needs - in fact, we import our gas from Norway. And how been 95% reliant on imports was a bad thing - nobody seemed to have told him we import 100% of our cars. But anyway, back to the film.

First of all, the negatives. It failed to deal with losses in efficiency. It mentioned the need for fast acting gas plant to back up intermittent renewables but failed to mention the loss in efficiency as a result of countries moving away from CCGT and towards less efficient OCGT. Thereby, increasing emissions and fuel consumption from the gas power generation sector.

Likewise, with electric vehicles, power stations are less efficient than regular petrol engines at converting oil to mechanical energy so you end up burning more fuel.

The film also gave the fairly standard view of Denmark as a renewables success, albeit with some qualifications. We were told that Denmark's wind exports were a valuable commodity when in fact, as Irish Energy Blog has shown, the export prices there are next to nil. There was also no mention of the high electricity prices in Denmark.

On the plus side, the film showed us the inside of a nuclear plant. It was not so nasty after all with radiation levels inside the plant lower than outside.  The amount of nuclear waste per person in France was the size of a 20 cent coin and recycling of the fuel meant that only a tiny proportion of the waste had to be dumped. The entry fee to see the film was worth it for this part of the film alone. It also dispelled alot of the myths around fracking - no contamination of water had been found in America (although we were later told afterwards that Ireland's geology was different to America's).

The film also explained very well the volumes of energy involved in powering the modern world and the small amount of energy that intermittent renewables, like wind and solar, could contribute to this in reality.

The film finishes on the topic of energy efficiency and the importance of conserving energy and demand side solutions rather than investing in more electricity generation (as the Irish government are committed to doing).

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